Investigation Reveals Fracking in Southeast Ohio Produces Radioactive Waste, Making Workers Sick
Fracking is a controversial business, much like coal mining or continuing to rely on oil for energy production, despite alternative cleaner sources. The Oxford English Dictionary defines fracking as “the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc. so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.” Fracking takes a substantial toll on the planet, contributing to the environmental crisis the entire world is facing.
An additional unknown consequence of fracking is that waste produced from the practice is radioactive, and the substance could be making workers ill, according to a recent article published by Rolling Stone magazine. The waste produced from fracking, known as “brine,” is a “naturally occurring waste product that gushes out of America’s oil-and-gas wells to the tune of nearly 1 trillion gallons a year, enough to flood Manhattan, almost shin-high, every single day,” according to the article. Most wells produce more brine than the oil or gas being sought.
One Ohio Man’s Story – What He Learned About “Radioactive” Oil and Gas Waste
One Ohio man sheds light on what he discovered while working as a truck driver who transported oil and gas waste across the state. The man worked long hours (beginning at 3:00 a.m. and ending after dark), hauling the salty “brine” to treatment plants or injection wells. The brine is then “disposed of by being shot back into the earth.” It was during one stop at an injection well that the man learned that the brine was radioactive. A worker had inspected the man’s truck using a hand-held radiation detector. The worker told the Ohio truck driver that his truck was “carrying one of the ‘hottest loads’ he’d ever seen.”
Because the Earth’s crust is “peppered” with radioactive elements, such elements are pulled to the surface when oil and gas are extracted from the ground through fracking. The radioactive material is mostly contained within the brine. The Ohio man was concerned by what he had learned when he was told his truck of brine was radioactive, so he confronted his supervisor about the matter. According to the Ohio man, the supervisor responded that the brine being stored in the man’s truck “was no more radioactive than ‘any room of your home.’” The man still had reservations about the situation and began to dig deeper.
Does Exposure to Radioactive Oil and Gas Cause Cancer?
During the Ohio man’s employment as a truck driver transporting oil and gas waste/brine, he experienced “regular headaches and nausea, numbness in his fingertips and face, and joint pain like fire.” The man also was aware of others “coming up with cancer, or sores and skin lesions that take months to heal.” The man stated that he was never given safety instructions on how to handle radioactive materials properly. Also, while he was required to wear steel-toe boots, safety glasses, a hard hat, and clothing with flash-resistant coating, he was never required to wear a respirator or a dosimeter to measure exposure to radioactivity. Additionally, the man was never required to wear gloves. The brine would get “all over your hands, and inside your boots, and on the cuticles of your toes, and any cuts you have – you’re soaked.”
To find out more about just how radioactive the oil and gas brine is, the Ohio man obtained samples that were tested at the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University. The results of the testing revealed the presence of two highly radioactive substances – radium-226 and radium-228 – that were found in the brine. Because of how dangerous these materials are, they are highly regulated. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission “requires industrial discharges to remain below 60 [picocuries per liter] for each.” Four of the samples provided by the Ohio man had a combined reading of more than 3,500 picocuries per liter, and one sample had more than 8,500 picocuries per liter.
The radium found in the brine samples can decay into other radioactive elements. Radium-226 can decay into radon, which is a radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of cancer in the United States. Radon exposure can cause lung cancer and has also been linked to chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The data uncovered by testing of the brine samples demonstrates that workers are unknowingly exposing themselves to highly toxic and dangerous radioactive substances, and such exposure may cause serious health problems later in life, such as various forms of cancer.
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